Just call them Prime-time Players.
This year, the Thomson Bulldogs' quest for a fifth state championship in the school's history will be played before a huge audience. Fans from across the state can watch the Class AAAA championship game on Georgia Public Television (Comcast Channel 3). The game starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
It's a far cry from 1984. That year, Thomson traveled to Marist and beat the War Eagles 27-17 on a cold December Saturday night. It was the first championship for the school in 16 years at the time and after the game Thomson fans hit the field, congratulating players and coaches in an impromptu celebration.
For me, the celebration was a chance to mingle with local legends. I shook hands with players like Jerry Mays and Terry Pettis - local sensations I knew only through stories in the newspaper. It was enough to keep an 11-year-old in the clouds for the rest of the weekend and more than enough to keep me as a Thomson football fan for life.
It's something I hope happens this Friday night too.The celebration, a chance for some of Thomson's youth to meet some of their heroes, from Jasper Brinkley and Danny Verdun to Demarco McNair and Deon Palmer.
But Friday's celebration should be for more than just a championship. It should be a time to honor Luther Welsh - the coach who heaps recognition on his players and tries to shy from the limelight as he stalks the sidelines.
He was there in 1984 and 1985 for the back-to-back titles, a scrappy general steamrolling his black-and-gold army over teams. He came back to Thomson in 1999, still passionate about football, but a little mellower - grandchildren will do that to you. Since then he's battled cancer, turned a team around and solidified his regal reputation.
Now all that's left is one more state crown.
The Dogs have already hook-and-lateraled past Rome and trounced Shaw in the Dome. In doing so, Thomson left a lasting impression on Shaw coach Charles Flowers.
"Pretty good is an understatement," he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Awesome. They were big, fast, strong and they were physical. ... They played like the best team in any classification."
Friday night, it's back to the brickyard for one more game - 48 minutes to preserving the No. 1Class AAAA ranking Thomson has held for most of the year.
Welcome home, guys.
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